Gap Analysis of Research Literature on Issues Related to Street-Involved Youth

Executive Summary

A survey was conducted of research materials published since 1990 dealing with background, experiences, behaviours and programming needs of street-involved youth in Canada. The goals of the literature review were:

  1. to identify key characteristics of street-involved youth;
  2. to explore how these characteristics are transected by factors of familial background and the conditions and experiences of street life in such a way as to create a constellation of risks for young people who spend significant amounts of time on the street;
  3. to examine the range of research methodologies used in these studies of street youth;
  4. to briefly examine programmatic responses to their service needs; and
  5. to identify gaps in research that, if appropriately addressed, could contribute significantly to a better understanding of this phenomenon and to the development of more effective programmatic responses.

A variety of web- and print-based resources were examined, including academic sources and publications of federal, provincial and municipal governments and community organizations. A substantial bibliography was compiled, focussing on Canadian sources but including American ones of particular relevance.

Appendices include an annotated bibliography consisting of 22 publications considered by the authors to be key research documents on street-involved youth; and a comprehensive bibliography of 189 sources published since 1990, which were identified and surveyed for this review.

There is a substantial amount of current material on Canadian street youth, but the gaps in research are considerable, both in terms of subject matter, and size or scope of studies. The field is characterized by highly localized, case study research, often having the benefit of an ethnographic approach, which typically allow the youth to give their personal accounts of living circumstances and service needs. Along with the gaps in specific subject matter, there is a lack of large-scale research that would allow a more complete view of the street youth situation. Nor are there enough localized case studies having methodologies that are sufficiently comparable to allow aggregation of findings across regions or nationally. The research gaps are listed below, rather than the descriptive findings from the studies reviewed, because of the potential value of this review for the development of research frameworks in future. The gaps the authors feel should be addressed are as follows (in no particular order of priority):

  • Antecedent family physical and sexual abuse: analysis by gender and Aboriginal ancestry.
  • Youths' decision-making patterns related to finding employment and budgeting or managing income, cross-referenced to age, gender, sexual orientation, and Aboriginal ancestry.
  • A systematic study of housing: including an assessment of conditions in youth shelters, including hostels, and the development of models for appropriate youth-centred multi-stage housing.
  • Links between mental illness in street-involved youth and age, gender, sexual orientation, and Aboriginal ancestry.
  • Attitudes and beliefs of street-involved youth with regard to HIV/AIDS prevention programming available; cross-referenced with age, gender, sexual orientation, and Aboriginal ancestry.
  • Youth needs for a range of information about survival basics such as housing, access to medical services, other programming; and what types of communication media are most likely to be effective.
  • Identification of culturally appropriate programming that could be used in health care and social service centres for Aboriginal street youth.
  • In-depth analysis of the reproductive health of female street-involved youth, addressing both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal perceptions about conception, pregnancy rates, birth control practices, strategies for coping with pregnancy, self-care during pregnancy, care of infants.
  • Study of the formation of two-parent or extended family units among heterosexual couples, same-sex couples, or fictive kin among Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal, heterosexual, lesbian, gay male and bisexual street youth – developed as a coping mechanism.
  • Investigation of the role of racism in the experiences of street youth – whether internalized attitudes, or the attitudes and behaviours of peers, service providers, the justice system, educational system – or other key players in the life of street youth.
  • Study of street-involved youth of Asian, Hispanic or other ethnic origins, to determine their participation in this life, antecedents, possible programming strategies that would be culturally appropriate and more likely to be effective.
  • Study of impacts of internalized and externally-located homophobia upon street-involved youth.
  • In-depth study of street-involved youth with disabilities – incidence, types, impacts on life on the street, potential programming to assist these youth.
  • In-depth "meta-analysis" of programmatic responses already in existence for street youth in general and/or particular sub-groups (age groups, ethno-cultural, females, gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/transgendered), drawing on evaluation research findings for the programs.
  • In-depth "meta-analysis" of methodologies used that most incorporate youth, but which still utilize accepted standards of methodological rigour.
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